Differences in survival and neonatal metabolism in lambs from flocks selected for or against staple strength

Document Type

Journal Article


CSIRO Publishing


Pro Vice Chancellor Research


Pro Vice Chancellor Research




This article was originally published as: Thompson, M. J., Briegel, J. R., Thompson, A. N., & Adams, N. R. (2006). Differences in survival and neonatal metabolism in lambs from flocks selected for or against staple strength. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 57(11), 1221-1228. Original available here


In the field, we found that lamb mortality was lower (P <  0.01) in a flock selected for wool staple strength (SS+) than in a flock selected against staple strength (SS–), or a random-bred control flock (R); mortality rates calculated from 4200 records were 17.0, 22.8, and 24.1%, respectively. The proportion of twins was similar in all flocks, but birth weights differed (P < 0.01), being 4.40, 4.25, and 4.14 kg, respectively. Biochemical profiles were measured in lambs from 20 ewes from each flock around the time of birth in an animal-house study, to define potential causes of the genetic difference in survival. In the intensive study, birth weight was similar for all groups; however, gestation length was slightly shorter in the SS+ lambs (P < 0.05 for SS+ v. R). All lambs had low plasma concentrations of the essential amino acids and glucose at birth, compared with after suckling. Plasma concentrations of glucose, non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) at birth differed between lambs from the flocks with the greatest difference in mortality (i.e. SS+ v. R); that is, SS+ lambs had higher concentrations of glucose (1.84 v. 1.23 mm; P < 0.01) and NEFA (1.52 v. 1.08 mm; P < 0.05), and lower concentrations of BUN (7.7 v. 9.7 mm; P < 0.01) at birth, and for the next 9 h. The semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscle of the SS+ lambs also had lower concentrations of ATP (7.4 v. 5.0 μmol/g, respectively) compared with lambs from the other flocks, immediately post-partum. Muscle phosphocreatinine was also slightly lower in the SS+ lambs. No differences between the genotypes were observed in reserves of glycogen, carcass fat, brown adipose tissue, or in neonatal thyroid hormones. In summary, sheep selected for high wool staple strength had lower lamb mortality than the other 2 flocks. This was accompanied by metabolic differences at birth that can be associated with greater metabolic maturity, rather than greater energy reserves.




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